“What is it, honey?” he asked.
“I was just thinking how we’d miss the garden,” she replied.
He looked about at the bright, cheerful flowers, the vine-hung picket fence, the cool verandah, the shady fig tree already of some size. Everything was neat and trim, just as he liked it. And the tinkle of pleasant waters, the song of a meadow lark, the distant mellow lowing of cows came to his ears; the smell of tarweed and of pines mingled in his nostrils.
“It’s a good place for children,” he said, vaguely.
Neither knew it, but that little speech marked the ebb of the wave that had lifted him from his eastern home, had urged him across the plains, had flung him in the almost insolent triumph of his youth high toward the sun. Now the wash receded.
It was indeed a good place for children. Charley and Alice Gates grew tall and strong, big boned, magnificent, typical California products. They went to the district school, rode in the mountains, helped handle the wild cattle. At the age of twelve Charley began to accompany the summer incursions into the High Sierras in search of feed. At the age of sixteen he was entrusted with a bunch of cattle. In these summers he learned the wonder of the high, glittering peaks, the blueness of the skies in high altitudes, the multitude of the stars, the flower-gemmed secret meadows, the dark, murmuring forests. He fished in the streams, and hunted on the ridges. His camp was pitched within a corral of heavy logs. It was very simple. Utensils depending from trees, beds beneath canvas tarpaulins on pine needles, saddlery, riatas, branding irons scattered about. No shelter but the sky. A wonderful roving life.
It developed taciturnity and individualism. Charley Gates felt no necessity for expression as yet; and as his work required little cooeperation from his fellow creatures he acknowledged as little responsibility toward them. Thus far he was the typical mountaineer.
But other influences came to him; as, indeed, they come to all. But young Charley was more susceptible than most, and this—on the impulse of the next tide resurgent—saved him from his type. He liked to read; he did not scorn utterly and boisterously the unfortunate young man who taught the school; and, better than all, he possessed just the questioning mind that refuses to accept on their own asseveration only the conventions of life or the opinions of neighbours. If he were to drink, it would be because he wanted to; not because his companions considered it manly. If he were to enter the sheep war, it would be because he really considered sheep harmful to the range; not because of the overwhelming—and contagious—prejudice.
In one thing only did he follow blindly his sense of loyalty: He hated the Hydraulic Company.
Years after the placers failed someone discovered that the wholesale use of hydraulic “giants” produced gold in paying quantities. Huge streams of water under high pressure were directed against the hills, which melted like snow under the spring sun. The earth in suspension was run over artificial riffles against which the heavier gold collected. One such stream could accomplish in a few hours what would have cost hand miners the better part of a season.